I truly never imagined my study abroad experience taking place in Colombia. However, the more time I spend here, the more I realize this was the right program for me. The notion of an ethnic studies program set in Latin America heavily influenced my decision—even more so because of CET Cali’s unique focus on the region in which we are living. A level of perceptiveness and reflection are foundational to the academics here, something I deeply value because I would have never built this critical consciousness had I come to Colombia for the sole purpose of tourism.
As a Chicanx/Latinx Studies major of Mexican descent from Southern California, my concept of what being Latinx looked like was extremely limited, informed mainly by the predominantly Mexican population in the area. I felt like I owed it to myself to experience Latin America outside of my familiar, monolithic perceptions—and I am so glad I did. The vibrancy Cali embodies is nothing like what I have ever experienced before. With salsa music sounding from street corners, cars, and homes and a sea of greenery everywhere you turn, it is not difficult to fall in love with the city.
CET has been very welcoming and supportive through the transition of acclimating to life abroad. On our first evening in Cali, our Colombian roommates greeted us upon arrival at the apartment complex. They took us on a walking tour of the surrounding neighborhood, which proved extremely helpful in the following days. We stopped at essential sites such as a local grocery store, an ATM, and Jardín Plaza, a nearby shopping center. The tour concluded with dinner at the CET house and staff introductions, and we returned to the apartments to rest up for the days of orientation that awaited us.
Our first weekend in Cali featured a tour of the city organized by CET, including the San Antonio neighborhood and the Parque de los Gatos (Park of the Cats), one of my favorite places so far. Overall, the combination of informational sessions and excursions created an engaging adjustment period.
As someone who relied on dining halls back at my home institution, cooking meals was something I was honestly nervous about—encouraged due to the apartment living situation as opposed to homestay housing. Despite the hesitation, cooking has become one of the most valuable parts of my routine. Creating and sharing a meal at the end of the day with my roommates has served as a pathway to get to know each other better. By coming together and taking turns with the preparations, we share recipes, stories, and traditions that would have never surfaced otherwise.
The act of cooking has also allowed me to remain connected to loved ones while abroad; I find myself asking my mother and grandmother for recipes, and my check-ins with friends and family always feature pictures of the meals I make. Though I am barely ending my third week abroad, my experiences and perceptions thus far have made me excited to continue adjusting and feeling more established in Cali.